Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
G’day! I am Dave Barnes and I founded the company Gym and Fitness. Gym and Fitness is one of the largest online retailers of home gym equipment in Australia and New Zealand, providing thousands of customers with easy access to gym equipment to help them achieve a fit and healthy lifestyle!
Currently, we have a team of 60 staff, servicing 450 customers a week.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have always been passionate about training, with a focus on maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle. I spent my teen years in and out of gyms as an elite athlete competing in the sport of archery. After competing in the 2004 Olympic Games and training at the AIS in Canberra, I returned back to my hometown of Adelaide, where I began the journey of setting up my own home gym.
Start small, limit your risk, test your product and market and always be ready to make changes according to feedback. Most of all make sure you’re having fun along the way!
I found this process to be disappointing, with local gym equipment stores offering a lack of range at steep pricing. With this in mind, I went searching for a local importer and wholesaler and came across a small business that had everything I needed at some really competitive price.
I bought a range of basics for my home gym set up but knowing the process that I had just been through to get my hands on quality gear at good prices, I thought I’d first list on eBay to see if there was demand. After selling through 200kg’s of weight plates pretty quickly, I realized there might be something in this! So I went back to the wholesaler, bought another 200kg’s of weight plates, rinse, repeat.
After having tested the model, I made my first commitment to ‘stock’ buying 600kg’s at a better buy price. And so was born the early Gym and Fitness equipment business model.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
After growing the company through a dropshipping model, I partnered with a local import/wholesaler and we focused our efforts on importing and re-selling a core range of bars, weights & dumbbells, with no innovation.
We then began to look at differentiating our products by working with manufacturers to combine features from different power racks on the market. This allowed us to develop in-house brands that we sold exclusively through the Gym and Fitness name.
Unfortunately with innovation comes copycats, and despite our best efforts, the Gym and Fitness power rack range has become the world's most copied power rack range!
We now have 7 in-house brands across the categories of Strength, Cardio, Flooring & Recovery, which we not only sell under the Gym and Fitness banner but export to other retailers across the globe.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The earliest days of Gym and Fitness was on eBay with inventory being stored in the garage. As the business evolved and I partnered with a local wholesaler, we began operating out of a warehouse and set up an online store on the osCommerce platform. I had no experience in web development or web admin but as is often the case in start-ups I donned the hat and learned the ropes whilst studying dentistry at university full-time on the side.
As the business grew we began to open brick and mortar retail stores across Australia, growing to 7 stores before we ran into some operational issues.
After many years selling out of brick and mortar retail stores, we struggled to scale profitably. With each new store bringing with it increased overheads, we just couldn’t see Gym and Fitness growing as quickly as we wanted. With this in mind in 2016, we pulled the pin on our stores letting go of almost half our team to shift our focus to what we were good at and where we saw the most growth opportunity - eCommerce.
Fast forward 4 years and we are operating a far more profitable business with less staff and only 2 showrooms - one attached to our warehouse and the other attached to our head office.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The biggest learning along the way has been realizing that we can’t be everything to everyone. By employing the 80-20 rule and understanding that the bulk of our sales comes from a minority of our prospect pool, we tend to focus on a small but fanatical segment of customers, who in turn generate word of mouth and send other like-minded customers our way. It is too easy to get lost in trying to do everything and whilst innovation is important, this needs to be controlled.
Gym and Fitness were built with acquisition prioritized over retention. We focused on finding the low hanging fruit and even to this day, we spend a large chunk of marketing budget on Google Adwords to find customers who are ready to buy. These channels are super easy to measure ROI and have allowed us to scale quickly and effectively. We combined this with the understanding that outsourcing specialist tasks such as Adwords, SEO and Paid social would pay for themselves and ensure we were getting the most out of these channels.
Recently we have put far more emphasis on the importance of customer retention, partnering with Klaviyo, and setting up a loyalty program for existing customers. We also refreshed our branding to ensure our look and feel aligned with our core beliefs as a company.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Currently, we are seeing steady growth, although the landscape is changing amidst Covid-19 with shifts happening in both the eCommerce landscape (online vs brick and mortar) and gym habits (public gym vs home gym).
Outside of this, we are seeing a trend of direct to consumer brands, making our private label brands a critical part of our strategy. We are also seeing customers shop around more with access to so much choice in the eCommerce space, so we are continuing to focus on our branding and the USP’s that we can offer our customers. For example, we recently launched augmented reality gym equipment, giving our customers the ability to view life-size versions of our All-In-One Trainers in their own space before purchasing. This is something that no one else is currently doing in the gym equipment space.
60% of our sales go through our online store, with the other 40% going through our sales team, who man the phones and assist inbound online customers. We have pulled back a lot of our efforts on market places such as eBay and Amazon in an effort to control the whole customer experience and ensure we own the customers’ data at the end of the interaction.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Absolutely. A few of my favorites:
- Cash flow is king!
- Getting the right people in the right roles is 90% of the battle!
- Listen to customers and their feedback - give them what they want and solve their problems!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Shopify powers our online store, with a few different apps to help with conversions and experience. Some apps we couldn’t live without include:
- DataFeedWatch to feed our products into marketplaces
- Fomo for social proof pop-ups
- JudgeMe for product reviews
- Shogun page builder
We recently moved from MailChimp to Klaviyo for our emails. Klaviyo offers a better 360 view of the customer and a lot more data to play with and report on.
NetSuite as our ERP.
Asana for our project management and collaboration, combined with G-Suite for file storage and communication. We also have an enterprise social platform called Jostle, which is great for company announcements and comms.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The most influential books for Gym and Fitness and the way we do things are Scaling Up by Verne Harnish and Traction by Gino Wickman. Scaling Up, in particular, has gone on to shape our company rhythms, the way we manage strategy and more.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The entrepreneurial journey is certainly not for everyone. It's not easy there will be blood, sweat, tears, and many failures along the way. However, if this is something you are considering, passionate about, and losing sleep over, then I fully encourage you to have a crack. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now’.
In terms of getting started, do lots of self-directed learning and reading and find a mentor or local business group, ie: Entrepreneurs Organisation, who have accelerator programs in most capital cities. Start small, limit your risk, test your product and market, and always be ready to make changes according to feedback. Most of all make sure you’re having fun along the way!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we are always looking for the right people but currently, we are looking for staff at our expanding warehouse.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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